YouTube, with its own ecosystem of celebrities, dramas and franchises, has become such an unconventional alternative to more "traditional" forms entertainment. Viewers come to the website to watch ASMR muckbangers eat aloe vera, non-stop drama in the makeup community (thanks Jeffree Star), or people like Tana Mongeau live their best lives. But for HauteLeMode's subscribers, Luke Meagher is teaching "fashion in the most fun, sassy, bitchy, analytical way," as he says at the beginning of each video.
When we think of fashion critics, we expect them to dissect collections with grace and admiration — think Tim Blanks, Cathy Horyn, or Robin Givhan. Though Meagher respects those critics, he's not one of them. He's sharped-tongued and shady, calling industry's favorites out on the regular for cultural appropriation or simply because he thinks their collections are boring. But he's also smart, doing the researching and taking the time to fully dissect his subjects thoroughly with an appreciation for the history of the industry and the art form.
After becoming obsessed with YouTube, Meagher decided to create his channel in 2015 because he noticed a gap in the topics he was interested in. "The only fashion content was hauls, try-on videos, and look books," he says. "A), I'm not that aesthetically pleasing, so that's not going to work. B), there's nothing about the actual fashion industry being talked about."
From his red-carpet reviews every season, to history breakdowns of legacy brands, to roasting celebrity and YouTubers' style, Meagher is truly creating unique videos. The HauteLeMode channel has recently surpassed 250,000 subscribers, and on Instagram, Meagher shares his opinions on the latest industry news and creates memes — comparing the latest Valentino show to the Dopplebops and using to Michael Kor's words on Project Runway to harshly describe his own collection.
PAPER had a chance to speak to the content creator about his place in fashion, Diet Prada, and who he'd like to see leave the helm of a major brand.
Why is YouTube your platform of choice to deliver fashion criticism?
There's that whole idea of self-production. It makes everything easier, because everybody else's video quality is not professional, TV quality. You don't feel as bad when you're using a shitty little camera. And then, it's also a matter of me being young. I was 17 when I started. I didn't have the money to pay for Women's Wear Daily, the Business of Fashion, or anything like that. If I needed to get my fashion information, there's nothing that is easily available for people to learn about the history of Dior or to watch a review of the most recent Chanel show.
So, it was a matter of: how can I make fashion palatable for a younger audience? They might not be buying Chanel haute couture, but they are buying into the idea of the brand and the fantasy of the brand. They might be buying Chanel lipstick at Sephora and because of the most recent collection, they're like, "This is the perfect time for me to buy into the brand." So, I think YouTube is often not thought of as an actual jackpot for the fashion industry, but it has a strong young audience who might not necessarily be fashion buyers, but they buy into fashion brands in a different matter.
Everybody has to start somewhere. Everyone has to be a fashion baby at some point.
In your videos, you're unapologetic shady and stay very true to your own point of view. In a place like fashion, where it seems like a lot of people are scared to fully voice their opinion, why are you so open, honest, and critical of the industry?
YouTube plays a big role. AdSense, which is the ads on the videos, don't necessarily have to relate to fashion. So how a magazine might be bound to Dolce & Gabbana, for instance, I have no ties to any brand unless I chose to interact with them. I've seen that I don't need a brand to deem me acceptable in terms of advertising to be successful. I can keep my journalistic integrity. I can keep that without having to ask a brand. Also, over time, I don't need to be going to London, Milan, Paris, and everywhere to do everything. I can see everything on the internet. I don't necessarily need to buy into the idea of, you're not working in fashion or you're not a fashion person unless you're at every single event. I don't need that to be an acceptable fashion insider or fashion critic. I have my audience, and it allows me to be this independent person that doesn't need to rely on any brand to make me something or anyone.
"I have my audience, and it allows me to be this independent person that doesn't need to rely on any brand to make me something or anyone."
You're still one of the only people that's covering these topics on YouTube in a non hypebeast-y way.
Tea. [Laughs] Very much so. Tea.
You've been running the channel for four years — what's changed since you started?
In terms of the fashion industry, we are going through a time where people are like, "Everything is boring. Everything sucks." For pretty much my entire channel, it's like "Everything is boring. Everything sucks." So, after a while, probably two or three months ago, I was like, why don't I actually start to look deeply into the industry a bit more, and so that maybe if the major brands suck, at least I'm unmasking a small group and sharing people a group of cool young designers, who are doing actual amazing work?
The more and more I see the gatekeepers of fashion fading away, the younger people are starting to come into their own and create their own specific thing: their signature pieces, their signature talents, their signature photos, and their signature models. There are these groups of people that are coming out together. That is definitely happening. I can't put a lot of names to faces right now, but I definitely think the industry is starting to create its own culture again. People are coming together.
Personally, I use to care about what people in the industry thought about me. I use to be like, I want to go to everything and I wish I would be brought onto every press trip. Now, I realized that honestly it doesn't fucking matter. I don't care. It's not something I have to have in order to feel relevant or anything like that. As long as I'm content with what I create, the message I put out, and people are happy with it and are learning from it. That's my job and that's cool. I'm very happy with that. That was a personal thing that I've gone through over the past few months. Shout out to YouTube for making me feel great about myself.
You talk a little bit about fashion being at an interesting period. Why do you think it is at this point and what do it will look like in the future going forward?
I personally speak for myself. I grew up at the beginning of Gen Z. Probably around 14 or 15, I was getting into social media. Seeing how my childhood was to how the culture of the world is now, it's so different. I think a lot of young kids don't understand that it's different, so the fashion industry has never had to deal with people saying that what they're doing is cultural appropriation, racist, and discriminatory. They never had anybody put their feet to the fire, ever. Magazines would never, because they're getting paid and brands are showered with praise. So, it's a matter of this whole new generation saying, "No, that's gross. What you're doing is disgusting. That's racist. That's wrong. Why are you doing this? We won't support you." The industry is changing in that way. More and more every day, I think we're getting better. PAPER, like the Aaron Philip cover, is the thing I've been talking about recently.
Aww. Love that!
No really. The cover and every single photo were amazing. Two years ago, when she was out on Twitter doing her thing, I was like, "I don't get it." It was just something the industry I know would just never allow for a trans, disabled person to walk a runway show. I couldn't conceive that in my mind, based on the knowledge of the fashion industry that I had. Now, since that time period, her photos have gotten stronger. She's doing covers. She's doing shows. I think the idea of diversity is going to be pushing us forward instead of just the supermodels and '90s fantasies that we are always thinking about when we think about fashion.
We're coming into an industry that looks at itself and understand itself. It's intelligent and trying to tell a realistic story about the world and what's at hand. Personally, what I look for in strong designers is someone that tells an amazing through clothing, like Mowalola Ogunlesi. She did these amazing, beautiful bloody gunshot motifs on her suits for London Men's Fashion Week. She's telling a story there. She's not just putting bloody gunshots for no reason. That's where fashion is going.
"It's a very necessary era in fashion because a lot of the brands, a lot of the people that work in fashion, and even cultures that revolve around fashion, especially the Western culture, need to come to terms with how the world has changed and how the new generation is going to be going forward in the fashion industry."
In that vein, do you think this idea of "woke fashion" is a trend? Will it eventually pass or will it stay and continue to facilitate this conversation?
I think of fashion in terms of eras. You have the 1940s to 1970s, where fashion was extremely closed off like haute couture — very white privilege and extreme amounts of money. When you hit the '80s to the mid-2010s, it's the era of fantasy and globalizing the fashion industry and still working on that narrative, still controlling how fashion is deemed by the public, customers, and clients, but opening the door for it to be something much more visible to the everyday person. We're still beginning the new era of fashion where everybody can speak about fashion. Everybody has an opinion about it. Everybody's allowed to discuss it. I don't think the idea of "woke fashion" is a trend. It's an era. I don't know how long the era is going to be around. I don't know if it is short or it is long. It's a very necessary era in fashion because a lot of the brands, a lot of the people that work in fashion, and even cultures that revolve around fashion, especially the Western culture, need to come to terms with how the world has changed and how the new generation is going to be going forward in the fashion industry.
You've spoken about how within the fashion landscape, you're on the fringe. Where do you feel like you stand now?
YouTube as a platform is not something that was recognized until maybe six months ago, literally barely recognized. The more and more I do what I do and spread my wings, the more and more fashion people are watching my videos. People that work in the industry are recognizing that, and that's nice to see. I'm becoming a little less fringed because a lot more people are understanding what I do and are happy to see what I do. But, the fringe thing comes from being one of the only people that says anything ill of the industry. A lot of the time, you're standing there and not everybody is saying, "Oh, I totally agree." You're there and like, "Ahh! Did I piss PR people that I know off?" or "Is the creative director that's following me going to upset that this is what I said about the collection?"
Just being a critic is not always easy, and I learned that more recently. You can't always be the super fun guy saying every collection is great, but then also, that's not my job. My job is not to say everything is major. My job is to tell a designer what I personally think and hope that's something that they hear. They take that advice or they don't, but at least they heard it from me. Very rarely is it coming from an ill-willed place. The fringe thing is a combination of being on YouTube, which is some that fashion people are like, "What's that?" still to this very day and a matter of being a critic that on a lesser-known fashion platform. So, even if I do get invited to a show, it's standing room. I can't stand and see the clothes. I'm still figuring out how I go about those situations, as well. Definitely in the fringes, but it's also something I'm becoming more comfortable with.
I remember in your video with @PamBoy, you talked a little about Diet Prada. Some say it's lost a bit of its edge as soon as they started to do sponsored posts. Where do you think the accountability stands for a critic when you include #ad or #sponsored in content, when they're supposed to voices commenting on the industry?
No comment. Listen, everyone has to do their own thing. That's that.
What's the future of HauteLeMode? Where do think this is going and where do you see yourself going in the near and distant future?
I'd like to turn HauteLeMode into a publication. Not something that is monthly or has to have a cover every month. But something that happens every once in a while, if we do something exceptional. About the sponsored thing, honestly, as long as you're not necessarily working with a major brand all the time, as long as you're outlining your contract like, "I can say whatever the fuck I want about you. You're paying me to say whatever I want." That's how I'd take it if anything like that ever happens. Let me do me. That's what you want, that's what you get. But, if I get somebody that is super amazing, that I love, I want to work with, and we have the budget to do it, I would like to create cool editorial content because, in reality, the fashion industry is also lacking that. People had amazing '80s, '90s, early 00's covers. I don't think any of these young kids ever get much like that. It's a matter of also providing that content. But, I'm going to try to chug along slowly. Do my thing.
If you get one rid of one designer at the helm of a house, who would it be? And who is a designer that more people should be following?
Easy peasy. Maria Grazia (Chiuri), and the thing it's nothing personal against Maria Grazia. But it's like, girl, thank you so much for your tenure. It will go down in history, definitely, but it's about time we all cut our losses and move on.
For a designer I think is amazing and should be getting more credit, there are a lot. I don't want to single one out. I'll do three. My good girl Tia. She runs Slashed by Tia. It's this amazing, beautiful frilly two-piece sheer set moment. It's my favorite thing. I'm obsessed with her and her work is amazing. She created this amazing brand signature at a young age, and I love that. Tolu Coker, she's another one. I saw her recently when I was in Paris, and she has taken re-dyed, recycled lace and create beautiful portraits of people from her neighborhood in London on garments. It mixes sustainability with beautiful portraiture made out of textiles waste. Amazing. I was talking about Mowalola Ogunlesi before. That most recent menswear collection, I was like, "You fucking go off, please. I need 17 halters in leather in these colors in my wardrobe, and you're giving me a narrative about culture." Those are three peeps that I'm really about right now.
Photo via Instagram